LONDON LETTER

The Crown — Symbol of the Nation

Beverley Baxter May 15 1939
LONDON LETTER

The Crown — Symbol of the Nation

Beverley Baxter May 15 1939

The Crown — Symbol of the Nation

LONDON LETTER

Beverley Baxter

SOME fourteen months ago I had the honor of being presented to the Queen at the house of Lady Maureen Stanley. There were half a dozen of us there, and the Queen, sitting on a sofa, talked to each of us in turn. It was all completely informal and human.

I must have had nearly half an hour’s talk with Her Majesty; a conversation which dealt with newspapers, Parliament and other topics. I am afraid that my interest in the Queen made my remarks even less entertaining than usual.

Three things struck me most—her lovely skin, her kindly humorous eyes, and her attractive soft voice. The camera can never do her justice. Her coloring and the expression of her eyes cannot be caught by the lens. I know of no other young woman who gives such a suggestion of gentleness yet strength of character.

After a time she said: “You area Canadian, aren’t you?” I admitted that such was my good fortune. “The King and I want to visit Canada if we can,” she said. “The King was there when he was young, but I have never seen it. I have had such charming letters from people there that I really think Canada must be one of the nicest places in the woi Id.”

I assured Her Majesty that it was even so.

The Queen’s interest in the subject was most marked. She admitted the difficulties of making such a visit, but obviously her heart was set on it.

Not long afterward Lord Tweedsmuir arrived in London and told me, as a secret, that Their Majesties had been invited to visit Canada. Putting the two things together, I began to perceive that Her Majesty’s interest in Canada had not been merely Royal politeness. The project had obviously been under consideration for some time.

New Precedents

I HAVE told these facts for two reasons. First, because I know how intensely interested the whole of Canada is in the personality of its Royal guests; secondly, because it disproves that malicious imported canard that the visit of Their Majesties was planned to offset the bad effects of Munich. The plan had been under consideration for months before the world learned to mumble the words, “Berchtesgaden, Godesberg, Munich.”

Needless to say, the visit has roused the most intense interest over here in the Old Country. In so many ways it is such a complete break with tradition that innumerable precedents will be created.

Up to a very few years ago the Sovereign was His Britannic Majesty and Emperor of India. When he came to the throne he was in due course crowned in London and, as soon as convenient, a durbar was held in India at which he would be present.

As King of England he was, of course, the King of all peoples and countries under the Bí itish flag. But his home, his throne, his crown and his duties were centred in the United Kingdom.

Then after the War, work began on the Statute of Westminster. The British Constitution was going through one of its startling but sedate alterations.

When the Statute eventually became law, His Majesty was still King of England and Emperor of India, but he was also definitely and individually King of Canada, King of Australia, and King of all the other Dominions.

It is true that his official residence would be Buckingham Palace and that his Court would still be St. James, but there was nothing to prevent His Majesty deciding to take up permanent residence in Ottawa. We have now no more claim on him over here, except by tradition, than you have in Canada.

The delicacy of this will be seen at once. There is a good

rule, not always observed, that a Minister of the Crown must accompany the King when he makes official visit« to other countries. King Edward VII used to break that rule from time to time but, broadly speaking, the Minister usually went along.

Now. many of us hoped that Ixrrd Halifax would accompany Their Majesties to Canada. For one thing, it is always good to remind a Foreign Secretary that there is such a thing as the Empire. Lord Halifax would feel his Imperialistic faith strengthened and revitalized by contact with that dauntless Empire figure. Mr. Mackenzie King.

And there would of course be valuable opportunities to discuss together the troubled condition of the world.

But what would be the official position of Lord Halifax when the King of England set foot on Canadian soil as the King of Canada? The Government at Ottawa would rightly claim that it was their duty to advise His Majesty.

Knowing what we all do about Canadian hospitality, there would be no danger of Lord Halifax not being welcomed with all heartiness, but actually lie would have no

official right to be attached to the King once the Canadian Government took over responsibility for His Majesty’s safety and Ministerial advice.

Position of

_ Governor-General

ANOTHER interesting fea• ture is the position of the Governor-General. He is the King’s representative in Canada. In fact he personifies the authority of the King, while his residence is regarded as semi-Royal territory. In every way he performs in Canada the duties which the Sovereign undertakes in Britain.

Then what happens to Lord Tweedsmuir when His Majesty arrives? Strictly speaking, His Excellency will become a sort of disembodied spirit. He will have no duties to perform, since the King is there in person.

It would, in fact, be a highly diverting proceeding if Mr. Mackenzie King should want to have an election while the King was in the Dominion. Would he apply to the King or the Governor-General for a dissolution of Parliament.'' I should imagine it would lx* to the Sovereign.

Still another change has been brought about by the new status of the Dominions. It is true that there is a Dominions Set rctary in I-ondon, but no longer docs he represent the means of approach to the Sovereign. That is direct. Ottawa goes straight to the King through the GovernorGeneral. So does I )ublin. This is a g«xxl thing on balance. For example, let us assume that Canada should elect a diehard Tory Government while Britain went semiCommunist. There might well be a sharp temperamental cleavage between the two Prime Ministers.

In that case the nonpartisan jjersonality of the King deals with each Government directly. 1 íe is a co-ordinating as well as a unifying force. In the fullest meaning of the words, he cmlxxlies the principle of “one for all and all for one.”

The diversion from Canada to the U.S.A. also creates precedents. Never before hits a ruling British Sovereign set foot on United States soil.

Here, of course, it would lx* to the greatest advantage to have Lord Halifax in attendance. While the United States’ millions cheered the King and Queen, there could be some very useful private conversations between Mr. Cordell Hull and the British Foreign Secretary'. Naturally it would be unofficial, but no doubt they could find some topics of common inteiest.

Yet if Lord Halifax went along, Mr. Mackenzie King would feel that he should too - and with every reason. In North America the automatic adviser to His Majesty would be the Canadian Premier.

Now the Americans are not only the kindliest people in the world, but also the most suspicious. The presence of the Canadian Premier and the British Foreign Secretary would convince a large number of people that there was dirty work afloat, and that some sinister plan was being prepared for America to pull Britain’s chestnuts out of the fire.

Therefore, at the moment I am writing this, it looks as if His Majesty will decide to take no Minister with him to the U.S.A. and that his visit should appear what it actually is merely an act of courtesy and friendship toward a country' for whom the British people have a special admitation and affection.

While no one doubts the waimth of the reception which both Canadians and Americans will give to Their Majesties. there are certain to be some people who will say, “What is a King but a puppet? He has no power. He is not appointed for his ability. He costs the country a lot of money, and gives no value for it. The whole business of monarchy is archaic and should be scrapped.”

Those are well-established arguments. But how far are

they true? What is the exart position of King George VI?

Continued on page 52

London Letter

Continued from page 9 -

The answer to that is complicated and extends to the very roots of history. First, there is the mystical significance of the throne. The King embodies the immortality of the British nation. Governments rise and totter and fall. The throne remains. Neither the crash of events nor the hand of death alters the throne. The King is dead, Long live the King ! The King has abdicated, Long live the King!

Unlike his subjects, the King is above the law and removed from political partisanship. He does not command his Ministers, he consults with them. As time goes on, he develops a firm grasp of political affairs. A new Government is formed, and the fresh Ministers seek counsel with the King on their appointments.

They are eager but apprehensive at the heavy tasks before them. The King talks to them, and cites the case of this ex-Minister or that and how he was brought down by difficulties of his own making. The King’s experience has become invaluable. In a moment of national crisis he will invite the opposing political leaders to consult with him and, because of his presence, the acerbities of political life are put aside.

He alone can prorogue Parliament and grant a dissolution. Normally he acts in this regard purely on the advice of his Ministers, but if he felt that the dissolution should not be granted his advice would go a long way to prevent it.

He is the head of the Established Church.

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He is the head of the Army, and every soldier takes the oath of service to him, just as every officer holds his commission from him.

Every night of the year at the mess of each regiment they toast, “The King !” He is the unseen head of every battalion.

The Navy belongs to the King. So does the Air Force. When the Fleet sails out to war, it is at the King’s command. When the pilot rises in the air to meet the attack of an enemy, he is fighting for King and country.

The value of Royalty could not be better exemplified than in those words, “For King and Country!” Try substituting, “For Chamberlain and Country!” or, “For Cripps and Country!”

Even in America one cannot imagine an army springing to arms “For Roosevelt and the Republic!” or even “For the President and the Republic!” The reason is that the President is a politician, supported by one section of the people and hotly opposed by another. Even in France, where the President takes no part in politics, he has been a politician in the past and therefore cannot achieve that mystical authority given to a king.

The King is the head of the social life of the nation. When President Lebrun, or King Leopold, or King Carol, come to Britain, the King and Queen are their hosts. The King is in fact the official host for the nation.

Thus, it is expected of him that in his private life he will display those qualities most typical of the nation as a whole, and observe those standards of conduct which the nation most respects. Also he will by his presence support charities and all good causes.

And while he is the head of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, he is, as Sovereign, profoundly interested in the economic welfare of his people. He must journey to every part of the country and gain first-hand information of the industrial life of the workers.

But above all, the throne is the one unifying force in the scattered lands of the

Empire flung across the seven seas. To the prairie farmer, to the lumberjack, to the man on the veldt and in the bush, he is “The King,” the mystic centralization of the greatness of the nation’s past and its proud hopes of the future.

The Ruler’s Role

"DUT HAS the King any real power? ■E-J Enormous. By lack of character or unwillingness to take the burden on his shoulders, he can demoralize the standards of a generation. By selfless devotion to his task and a willing sacrifice of his own liberty, he can elevate the standards of the whole nation.

Wisely, his possibilities of doing good are greater than of his doing harm. Never again will a British king defy Parliament like Charles I, or make war like George III against the wishes of his Government. And although the King owns the Fleet and could order it to war on his own volition, the Minister who tried to carry out his command would be arrested and impeached before the Fleet got up steam.

No. The King does not govern the British Empire. He rules over it. He is not the granter of liberties, but the guarantor

of them. As the King, he is the servant of the people over whom he rules.

What is his worth to the nation? It could not be computed in gold. In his sceptre is the symbol of the nation’s immortality.

Yet to those who can only respect the man and not the office that he holds, I would say: “In this young man and woman who are coming to your shores you have two people worthy of all your respect and devotion. They never sought the throne, they paid a heavy price by giving up a happiness and freedom which made their lives a joy, they have been true to themselves, to the State and to their God.”

Whether as the King and Queen, whether as husband and wife, or father and mother, or as George of England and Elizabeth cf Scotland—you are receiving a man and woman worthy of the faith and affection of Canada.

We shall hear your cheers on this side, and I know how the hearts of Their Majesties will leap to meet the generous spirit of Canada. And when they come back to us to the troubled little Islands of the North Sea, we shall know that the throne is stronger and more precious for this crossing of the sea.